Monday, March 23, 2009

Guest Blogger Vickie McDonough

Thank you for inviting me to be a guest blogger on the Edit Café. I’ve enjoyed reading the posts here and have learned a lot about what goes on behind the scenes in the publishing world.

Often I’m asked where my ideas for books come from. That’s so hard to pin down because they come in different ways. One time I thought up a title I liked—The Bounty Hunter and the Bride—and wrote a story to fit it. A lot of stories come about from taking a germ of an idea and then asking, “What if this happens?” Brainstorming with friends is a great way to get ideas, especially for people like me who have trouble thinking outside the box.

Last year, I started researching ideas for a trilogy set in historical North Dakota. I knew nothing about ND and had never been there. I knew these stories would be based on a ranch, so I started researching for a place to set a ranch. FYI – a great place to search for ranch info in a particular state is to Google “Ranches for sale.” Not only will you find complete information about a specific ranch, but there will usually be some great pictures and even descriptions of the wildlife found in that area.

I discovered that most historical ranches were in the southwest part of North Dakota around The Badlands, where there are abundant grasslands intermixed with steep buttes, beautiful rock formations, and wide valleys.

While narrowing down exactly where I wanted my ranch to be, I stumbled on the story of a French marquis, Antoine Amedee Marie Vincent Amat Manca de Vallombrosa—oi, what a mouthful—(better known as the Marquis de Mores) who came to the Dakota Territories in 1883 with the dream of shipping dressed beef back east in refrigerated rail cars to provide urban dwellers fresher meat. My first thought was…they had refrigerated trains back then? Yep, they did.

The Marquis de Mores invested heavily in his dream. With the help of his father-in-law, Baron Von Hoffman, the Marquis incorporated the Northern Pacific Refrigerator Car Company in April 1883. He built a meat-processing plant just west of the Little Missouri River. The plant could process 150 beef carcasses per day.

The tiny town located where the plant was built was named after the river, but had the nickname of Little Misery. The Marquis didn’t like that so he built his home—a twenty-six room chateau—on the east side of the river and started a new town which he named after his wife, Medora.

The Marquis and his industrious wife were involved in many enterprises including cattle and sheep ranching and the Medora-Deadwood Stagecoach line. They even built a Catholic church in Medora. Things went along well until two horrible winters that killed 80% of all the cattle in the area. Growing pressure from Chicago meat producers was another problem the Marquis faced. When the Marquis’s meatpacking business collapsed in 1886, his commercial empire did as well. His dreams, however, created a romantic legacy that lives on in western North Dakota.

My husband and I visited Medora, which is set in the heart of the Badlands and near the entrance of the Theodore Roosevelt National Park. The tiny town has gone through a restoration revival in hopes of tapping the tourism industry. You can visit the marquis’s home, which is still there and filled with many of his personal belongings and furniture. The meat-processing plant burned down in 1907, but the tall, native-brick chimney still stands in silent tribute to this early attempt to capitalize on the meat-packing business.

I fell in love with the Marquis’ story and with Medora, and I hope to go back someday for another visit. Needless to say, I set my three stories in and around Medora. The first book two books have already been released: Wild at Heart and Outlaw Heart. The final book in the series—Straight for the Heart—comes out in a few months. Within in these stories you’ll meet a female dime novelist who goes west when a North Dakota rancher challenges her facts on the west, a Texas Ranger who tracks a female bank robber to a ranch near Medora, and a rancher who impulsively marries a jailbird when his mail-order bride fails to arrive on the train.

Writing history can be tricky, and you don’t want it to overpower the plot. With Barbour, the romance is the main story, but you can weave in a historical thread that can add authenticity to your story.


Carrie Turansky said...

Thanks Vickie! I love researching for my stories too. This was fun to hear more about how you came up with your setting and ideas for your ND stories. It was great to see you and Becky and so many ACFW friends in Dallas!

Susan Page Davis said...

Very interesting background, Vickie! I love this series, and I'm jealous of your great titles.

Elizabeth Ludwig said...

What a great tip on researching settings for ranches! Thanks, Vickie.

Vickie McDonough said...

Carrie, It was fun seeing you in Dallas! There just wasn't enough time though.

Susan, I'd share my titles with you, if I could. Maybe you can use them down the road a bit. :)

Elizabeth, I've found loads of story info when researching ranches for sale. It's a great resource.

Therese Stenzel said...

Great idea on how to find information on a ranch!. I'm working on a story set in Wyoming and I need a ranch setting. Now if I could just Google and find, best selling, twenty book deal, authorship for sale :)

Therese Stenzel

Gloria Harchar said...

I love your French Marquis idea! And Antoine is to die for!!! :-) He sounds absolutely luscious!

Thanks for sharing, Vickie!



Margaret Daley said...

By the way, that was a great story, Vickie. Isn't it fun when your research pays off!


Debra E Marvin said...

Ahhh, the lure of historicals! It's just so much fun to find something, start digging and then have a setting and characters come alive.
Always seems to be more fun than research for a contemporary.

Thanks for sharing with us Vickie.

Diane Moody said...

Hi Vickie! It's always fascinating to me how authors come up with ideas for their stories. Thanks for sharing the spark that lit this idea for you! Blessings on you with this series of books!

Mary Connealy said...

Hi, Vickie, great idea for a story setting. I'm looking forward to it.

Beth Goddard said...

What fun to read about your research here! I'm setting a story in contemporary North Dakota and just received my pack of information from the state last week, which included a tourist guide for Medora. Can't wait to read your latest.

Eileen Key said...

Oh Vickie, I think your brain and my brain need to meet up again! Great post. What an interesting thread.

Vickie McDonough said...

Thanks for you kind comments, everybody. The first two books in my North Dakota series, Wild at Heart & Outlaw Heart, are currently available at

The last book will be out this summer.

It is fun when you discover a gem in researching and it pays off with a good story.

Patti said...

Hi Vickie! I really enjoy your writing style. I have read several of your books and can honestly say they keep me engaged. Keep up the good work!

Sally Jo said...

I've been a fan of Vickie's work for a LONG time. Memorable characters, a gentle faith message, and a sharp eye for historical detail. Keep writing, Vickie!!